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Climbers Reminded To Practice Leave No Trace Ethics

Trash collected from clean up from climbing area at Longs Peak.  Photos courtesy Rocky Mountain National Park

Trash collected from clean up from climbing area at Longs Peak. Photos courtesy Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park has always been known for an abundance of spectacular alpine rock climbing and mountaineering. Recently, bouldering, the practice of climbing on boulders that often includes difficult gymnastic-type moves performed close to the ground, has also become popular in the park. Boulders in Chaos Canyon and near Emerald Lake have become frequent destinations for climbers seeking to practice their craft on boulder problems where the use of ropes and other hardware aren’t utilized.

But where the risk of falling from a boulder includes the potential for injury, many climbers utilize “crash pads,” nylon covered foam pads designed to be placed on the ground beneath a bouldering problem to soften a potential fall.

As more and more climbers come to the park to boulder, impacts to the park’s natural resources increase. For example, crash pads are frequently left behind so they don’t have to be carried back and forth from the trailhead to the bouldering areas. Sometimes these pads are chewed by marmots and rodents, resulting in small pieces of foam littering the area and offering up an unhealthy diet for wild animals. Fortunately, most climbers who recreate in Rocky Mountain National Park minimize their impacts by practicing Leave No Trace Ethics. However, an increasing number are leaving crash pads stashed under and around the boulders, resulting in problems such as the one noted above. During a patrol last summer, rangers found more than 25 pads hidden in the Chaos Canyon area alone. Last week, rangers collected nine pads in one day. Rocky Mountain National Park’s backcountry is managed as wilderness. Leaving these pads is illegal.

Ranger Matt Wilber carries out crash pad left behind in the back country.

Ranger Matt Wilber carries out crash pad left behind in the back country.

Issues of concern aren’t limited to bouldering areas. Several years ago rangers removed nearly four hundred pounds of trash, old slings, abandoned rope, abandoned food caches, and other items left behind by climbers on the east face of Longs Peak.

Rangers hope that users will take more responsibility toward maintaining a natural, wilderness setting by carrying their crash pads to and from bouldering areas and by removing other inappropriate items at the conclusion of each trip. If not, items will be confiscated and owners could risk costly fines. According to Chief Ranger Mark Magnuson, “Responsible stewardship of public lands is necessary for all user groups, helping to ensure the freest possible access and appropriate recreational use consistent with long-term preservation of park resources. Adhering to the principles of Leave No Trace is one way to help accomplish this.”

Park staff greatly appreciate the support they receive from a variety of climbing organizations and the majority of responsible climbers.

American Alpine Club members have taken stewardship seriously by organizing the Lumpy Ridge Trails Day for the past seven years. Members from the Northern Colorado Climbers Coalition have assisted in cleanup of bouldering sites. American Alpine Club has also partnered with the park to help fund human waste bags and distribute them in the Lumpy Ridge area and for use at overnight bivouac sites throughout the park. However, rangers continue to be concerned at the amount of climbing gear left behind. Climbers can help the park keep these areas open by practicing Leave No Trace ethics and packing out everything that they bring in.

© 2014 Estes Park News, Inc

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